Thursday, January 6, 2011

Tonight (1984)


1. Loving the Alien: A lyrically striking cinematic album highlight, the overlong quasi-spiritual slog of Loving the Alien, like much of the album suffers from fussy, over-saturated 80s production values. There is good song in there somewhere confirmed by the emotive stripped back “demo” version rolled out on the 2004 Reality tour. 7.5

2. Don’t Look Down: Bowie started covering/collaborating with Iggy Pop in the late 70s and this trend would continue well into the 80s, none more so than on this album where Bowie and Iggy had re-established their friendship. This is the first of five co-writes on this album - some cover versions, like this one (the splendid original appearing on Iggy’s essential New Values album), and other new collaborations. While not a patch on the original, this works quite well even with the loping reggae treatment. Particularly good as incidental music in the guiltily pleasure-able ‘Jazzin for Blue Jean’ mini-film. 6.5

3. God Only Knows: A left over from the original Pin Ups album. To say covering this Beach Boys hit was ill-advised is a huge understatement (it's a song I have never been a huge fan of...sorry) . There’s a lot wrong with this train wreck: the strings are kitschy and Bowie’s undistinguished vocal performance is one of his all time worst, for starters. 1.0

4. Tonight: Covering this awesome track off Iggy’s seminal Lust for Life album as a duet with Tina Turner may have looked good on paper, unfortunately winds up a directionless adult-contemporary lite-reggae borefest. 3.0

5. Neighbourhood Threat: Side two crashes in extra-loud and compared to the title track, Neighbourhood Threat is an urgent, energetic and tense adaptation of the Lust for Life original with some vigorous singing from Bowie, if a little scattershot and texturally barren in it’s arrangement. 6.5

6. Blue Jean: This listless faux-‘50s faux-rocker is drenched in crunchy sax and ridiculous lyrics, and while enjoyably catchy, ultimately grates. 5.0

7. Tumble and Twirl: This fresh collaboration with Iggy includes some appealing imagery in the lyrics (“hot juice in coke bottles”) referring to their recent experiences holidaying in Borneo. The lengthy uptempo lounge funk of Tumble and Twirl is strangely enjoyable despite an arrangement clearly cooked up by the anonymous production team while Bowie was outside smoking a cigarette. 5.5

8. I Keep Forgettin’: This inconsequential Vegas throwaway (written by Leiber and Stoller of Jailhouse Rock fame) is thoroughly forgettable inoffensive filler. 3.0

9. Dancing with the Big Boys: This somewhat melody-free closer is still one of the more interesting tracks on the album and Bowie virtually takes a back seat to Iggy’s lead vocal and string of non-sequiturs (eg: “Your family is a football team”). Tonight also saw the welcome return of Carlos Alomar who provides co-write credits here. Bowie would go on to produce Iggy’s forthcoming Blah Blah Blah and would rework another collaboration called Shades (7.5), a fine song unfortunately left off this album. 5.5


VERDICT: This is where Bowie started trying to second-guess the musical tastes of his global following and rushed out Tonight to capitalise on the massive success of Let’s Dance and the subsequent Serious Moonlight tour. Unfortunately the sub-par material was left to faceless 80s producers Hugh Padgham and Derek Bramble (better known for their work with Phil Collins and Sting) to messily piece together an album full of generic horns, strings and marimbas while Bowie sat on the couch waiting to do his vocal take, with nothing more to prove. Far from Let’s Dance II (most of the same musicians were used), the stylized pop of Tonight is actually more varied and far more interesting as a whole, and never dull, even if the songwriting is virtually non-existent. Clearly a less-inspired album in the Bowie cannon (it was essentially disowned by Bowie upon it’s release), but apart from God Only Knows there isn’t anything truly awful on it, and can be a relatively enjoyable experience when listened to in the right context (ie: unconscious). The highly attractive album cover is a homage to eccentric British artists Gilbert & George.

NEXT: “…I really shouldn't have even bothered going into the studio to record it. In fact, when I play it, I wonder if I did sometimes…”.

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